John Mitchell: Blessed are the peacemakers – why this day is so vital

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Ukrainian servicemen walk through a charred forest at the frontline
Ukrainian servicemen walk through a charred forest at the frontline a few kilometres from Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine. Image: The Fiji Times/AP

COMMENTARY: By John Mitchell in Suva

On Thursday, the whole world celebrated the International Day of Peace. Although the UN day is not as famous as others, like World Press Freedom Day, International Women’s Day or World Teacher’s Day, it is important nevertheless.

The UN General Assembly has set aside the special day to help strengthen the ideals of peace, by observing 24 hours of nonviolence and ceasefire. Why? Because never has our world needed peace more.

Just look around us. The Ukraine-Russia war seems like a never-ending fight. Despite efforts made globally to end it, the armed conflict continues to rage on in Europe.

In the continent of Africa, clashes continue in the war-torn Sudan.

According to the UN reports, Sudan is now home to the highest number of internally displaced anywhere in the world, with at least 7.1 million uprooted.

More than six million Sudanese are one step away from famine and experts are warning that inaction could cause a spill over effect in the volatile region. In the Middle East, strife can be heard and seen in the mainstream media every second day.

The scourge of hunger, HIV/AIDS, strange diseases, famine, climate change and natural disasters continues, without any end in sight. On the other hand, for many people living in stable, well-educated and prosperous communities, every day is an invaluable gift to wake up to.

Peace seems invisible
Peace in these places seems invisible because people’s hearts are filled with contents and happiness. People enjoy living in good homes, going to good schools, walking on safe streets and lawbreaking is unusual.

However, this environment and type of living is absent or different in some parts of the world around us.

In some countries, every year wars kill hundreds of lives, including women and children, poverty puts millions more through a life of struggle and low levels of education makes people unemployed and in need of the many offerings of life.

With military conflicts, humanity takes a significant step backwards, as many things have to be recovered instead of going forward. Just look at the past two world wars to understand this.

Both wars caused the loss of human lives, property loss, economic collapse, poverty, hunger and infrastructural destruction. But among the trail of destruction the wars left behind emerged humans’ insatiable desire for peace.

The absence of comfort and the overriding feeling of anxiety and fear brought about by conflicts, created spaces in the human heart that allowed humans to, once again, yearn for goodwill, friendship and unity.

That is why the celebration of the International Day of Peace, which is aimed at conveying the danger of war, is very important.

Actions for Peace
This year’s IDP theme was Actions for Peace: Our Ambition for the #GlobalGoals, a call to action that recognises individual and collective responsibility to foster peace.

On the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Peace is needed today more than ever.”

“War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty, hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes. Climate chaos is all around. And even peaceful countries are gripped by gaping inequalities and political polarisation.”

Defined loosely, peace simply means being in a place, where no hatred and no conflict exists and where hatred and conflict are replaced by love, care and respect. We are now in the year 2023.

We find that fostering peace is becoming impossible without justice and fairness, without the values of respect and understanding, without love and unity, and without equality and equity.

Crime continues to escalate, our women and children continue to get raped, there is a lot of hatred and rancour, our streets are not safe at night and our homes are not secure.

People don’t respect people’s space, people’s human rights and people’s property. The internet and social media have revolutionised the world, the way we do things and the way we live our lives.

But some of these are extinguishing peace instead of disharmony. Despite efforts to use the internet to prevent conflict, social media is fueling hatred, radicalisation, suspicion, rallying people to disturb the peace, spreading untruths and creating disunity.

Defences of peace
The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

Therefore, for us in Fiji, every day and every opportunity must be exploited to support people to understand each other, work together to build lasting peace and make a safer world for diversity and unity.

Because we are all anticipating Fiji’s upcoming games in the Rugby World Cup 2023, we should think seriously about how we can use sports as instruments of peace.

Our Flying Fijians are doing this superbly every time they erupt in singing, give a handshake or a smile, and lift their hands and eyes to the skies in prayerful meditation. There are no wars in Fiji yet we are still struggling to instill peace in our hearts, mind and lives.

We still need peace in our families and communities. Peace is more than the absence of war.

It is about living together with our imperfections and differences — of sex, race, language, religion or culture. At the same time, it is about striving to advance universal respect for justice and human rights on which peaceful co-existence is grounded.

Peace is more than just ending strife and violence, in the home, community, nation and the world.

It is about living it everyday. UNESCO says peace is a way of life “deep-rooted commitment to the principles of liberty, justice, equality and solidarity among all human beings”.

Have a peaceful week with a quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:9) “Blessed Are the Peacemakers, for They Will Be Called Children of God”.

John Mitchell is a Fiji Times journalist and writes the weekly “Behind The News” column. Republished from The Sunday Times with permission.

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